Ah, technology. Where once you had to take out an ad in the local newspaper, or sip a dry martini with two olives alone at the bar, you no longer have to leave the comfort of your own home to find Mr. or Ms. Right. With 2021's top dating apps, you can enjoy a relationship without getting out of your chair. Ain’t it somethin’?
Despite only 12 percent of Americans finding themselves in committed relationships or marrying someone they meet on a dating site according to Pew Research, I am living, breathing proof that it works — so far, anyway!
I met my husband on Tinder, and we’re as happy as peas in a pod (aside from the fact he shaves into the sink and somehow forgets to clean up after, but I digress …).
Thankfully, the shame that was once associated with answering the question “How did you two meet?” with “online?” has decreased over the years.
About 48 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 38 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds, and 16 percent of those 50 and up have used dating sites or apps, the same survey found. And they’re just the ones who were honest about it!
“My number-one piece of advice is to use just one dating app,” says dating coach Lily Womble. “More than one dating app invites cognitive overload, which only leads to burnout. It becomes a part-time job trying to swipe, message, respond, and so on, on three or four different platforms. Pick one you like the most and stick to it.”
And just as important, do they work? “I’ve seen dating apps work for my clients in many ways,” says sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr. “Women have used them to learn about themselves post-divorce, and when starting to date. It’s a way for every gender to get out there, and with each step, learn about yourself.”
Time to Date
If you haven’t used dating apps before, you might wonder why anyone would choose the paid option over the free option that is available. But the average person who uses dating sites spends $58 per year on premium features, according to data collected by savings app Trim.
Despite a larger percentage of users being in the 18–34 age range, those 35 and above clearly spend more money looking for love.
And it seems that regardless of age, the top motivation is the same across all generations: to find an exclusive romantic partner.
About 13 percent of users pay premium fees to do so, with an additional 29 percent admitting to having done so before or being willing to pay up in the future, according to a survey by Statista.
From $555 million in 2018 to a projected $649 million in revenue in 2023, Statista reports, the paid versions are doing something right. Below, you’ll see what those options are, so you can make the decision of whether the money is worth it for you.
So without further ado, here are the top dating apps for 2021:
(If you’re wondering how I chose my list, these apps are literally the most used dating apps in the United States, according to Statista — with a couple of honorable mentions and exceptions.)
Okay, so we know I’m a tad biased on this one, but it remains the most popular dating app by audience size to date. Since its conception in 2012, the swiping feature has been the source of much enjoyment and ridicule in modern times, and the company continues to add new features often. As well as the free version, they offer:
Tinder Plus: As little as $5 per month depending on which bundle you buy
- Unlimited daily swipes
- Rewind your last swipe
- 5 Super Likes a day (let someone know you really like them as opposed to just a regular swipe right)
- 1 Boost a month (gives you more eyes on your profile)
- Passport to swipe around the world (lets you swipe on users across the globe, not just in your own country)
- No ads
Tinder Gold: $12.50 per month
Everything you get with Tinder Plus, plus:
- See who likes you before you match
- Top picks feature, in which the app curates locals suited for you
Best for: All ages, intentions, and sexual orientations, but most popular among 18- to 35-year-olds.
In hetero matches, the woman is charged with messaging first within 24 hours of matching. This is to, as the company says, “level the playing field and change the dynamics of dating.” You have 24 hours from the time you match to message the other person.
Depending on how much you like to be in control, this feature could be perfect for you, or it could ruin the fun. In same-sex relationships, however, any party can message first.
The free version gets you access to everything such as swiping on accounts and viewing other users’ information, and the paid aspect is for features, rather than a higher level of account.
- See users who have already swiped right on you
- Re-match with expired connections
- Extend matches for an additional 24 hours (if you’re still living in hope of a match made in heaven!)
- Send Super Swipes to “make a bold first impression”
- Activate a “Spotlight” feature that gets more eyes on your profile
Best for: Women who are looking to start a relationship or just an interaction on their terms.
Plenty of Fish
Owned by the Match Group who are also behind Tinder, OKCupid, and Match.com, Plenty of Fish is popular because it has just that: a large, varied user base. There’s also a desktop version for those who are less-inclined toward smartphones.
It also has advanced search features so you can filter out any smokers or people who love to exercise, if that’s not what you’re looking for. As such, the sign-up process is a little more in-depth with questions for you, too.
Plenty of Fish is free to use, and most of the functionality of the site is available this way, but you can pay for upgrades.
- Upload extra images of yourself
- Show up first on their matches’ pages
- Can see other users’ extended profiles
- Use the site ad-free
- See who viewed your profile
Best for: Variety. With one of the largest user bases, you stand a good chance at finding someone that suits your needs, no matter what they are.
I like to think of this site as the mother of all online dating sites. Started in 1995, Match.com is still wildly popular today. It has one of the more intense sign-up processes to ensure you are giving as much information as you want to get.
It has an extremely limited free option, so users are encouraged to pay for upgrades.
For free, you can view profiles of potential matches, so you only pay when you want to make contact. They offer a trial so you can test out what the site has to offer before you commit to their monthly plans.
Why pay? The fact that you have to pay means anyone you meet has also spent the dough, and therefore is a bit more serious about finding a potential partner than someone who is just interested in a hookup.
- Send, receive and reply to messages from other users
- See who has viewed your profile
- See who has liked your profile
- Remove users you’re not interested in so you can see new ones
- Get info on Match events so you can meet other users in person
- All of the above
- Email “read” notification
- 1 profile review per year
- 1 Boost per month to put you in front of other users
- Special discounts on Match events
Best for: Those interested in long-term, serious relationships. The user base is 48.6 percent 30- to 49-year-olds, and over 26 percent are aged 50+, so there is a more mature atmosphere than with Bumble or Tinder.
Since 2004, OKCupid has been a dominating force in the online dating realm. (Who else remembers their DTF subway ads and the recently launched “Ask Yourself” campaign?) They are by far the most inclusive of dating apps if you look at their marketing alone.
When choosing a gender, there are more than 20 options available; a choice that was not immediately evident in any of the other apps on this list.
The sign-up process is a lot smoother than the last time I tried it, though it is still intense — after supplying information about yourself, you’re presented with no fewer than 15 opinion questions before you can get up and running.
OKCupid is free to use with add-ons as follows:
Boost: A quick power-up that gets you more likes faster, and also gets you a day’s worth of attention for 30 minutes (the algorithm gets more eyes on your profile within that 30 minutes than it would without paying).
- See who likes you first
- Unlock all of your “intros,” or messages people have sent you, at once
- Advanced search filters so you can be more specific in what you’re looking for
- Unlimited likes
- Message read receipts
- No ads
Everything in A-List Basic Plus
- Daily automatic boost
- Get more eyes on your profile
- See potential matches’ answers to the questions you were also asked to determine compatibility.
Best for: Individuality and inclusivity. Their marketing and sheer number of gender choices make this the perfect playground for everybody and anybody.
Launched in 2009, Grindr is notorious in the LGBTQ+ dating community. With millions of daily users who identify as queer in some aspect, it is the perfect playground for those who are LGBTQ+ inclined.
Sign-up doesn’t require linking a social media platform, which means it may be easier to catfish someone on the site, so keep your wits about you.
Grindr has evolved in recent years and become involved in empowering LGBTQ+ people around the world with community initiatives. They are strong supporters of safe sex and the upkeep of good sexual health, too.
Grindr is free to use, but there are multiple paid versions or “upgrades” available:
- Chat with an extra 500 users
- Filter by “online now” and “photos only”
- Unlimited blocks to get rid of those unwanted profiles messaging you
- Send multiple photos of yourself to another user
- Save your favorite phrases so you can chat others up faster
- Read receipts
- Unlimited “favorites” of your … well, favorite profiles
Everything you get with XTRA plus:
- Unlimited profiles
- See who has viewed you
- Incognito mode so no one can tell if you’ve looked at their profile
- Photos expire after a period of time (in case you send some on the raunchier side)
- Translate languages so you can meet people all over the world
- Unsend a message if you slip up
- See when someone else is typing
Best for: The LGBTQ+ community. There are a number of other queer dating apps, but none that hold the monopoly the way Grindr does.
I am a big fan of their tagline “Designed to be Deleted.” If you’re looking for a serious relationship (like I guess I was, in hindsight!), this is the exact sentiment you’d want to see from a dating app. Personally, I never had much luck on it back in the day, but so many of my friends rave about it.
The app’s algorithm matches you only with those they think you’re interested in after you have been using it for a time — it continues to learn. You answer three “prompt” questions, and users see this as well as your photos to determine if you are a good fit.
An interesting feature of the app is that it asks how your date went so it can learn even more about what you liked and didn’t like. Some may say that’s kinda creepy, others may be into it. It will become apparent real quick which one you are when an app texts you: “So… how was it?! 😜”
The app is free, but they have a Preferred Members program.
- See everyone who likes you
- Set advanced preferences on what you prefer in a partner like level of education, family plans, etc.
- Unlimited likes on other profiles
Best for: Gen Z and Millennials who are looking for a serious relationship, and not just a hookup.
Designed for those ages 50 and up, the sign-up for this dating service is simplistic and straightforward. Getting rid of the heftier set-up processes, there are four simple questions to answer before you get up and running.
One asks you what decade of your life you would relive if you could, which I thought was unnecessary until I saw the option to say you are happy as you are now. What’s the point of living in the past, eh?
With over 6 million users, most of whom are looking for love, OurTime might be the perfect answer to your later-in-life dating woes. The free version is limited — you can’t reply to messages or start messaging someone until you upgrade or “subscribe.”
- Read and reply to your messages
- See members who have flirted with you
- See members who have liked or “Fave’d” you
- Chat with the hundreds of members online now
They also offer a quick, one-off “Boost” option to get more eyes on your profile.
Best for: Singles over 50 who are looking for love and companionship. It is never too late!
A giant in this space initially with its launch in 2000, eHarmony reigned supreme for a time and is still popular — if not as popular as it once was. Its decline may be due to the heteronormative nature of its site. Yes, you can be a woman seeking a woman, but you can’t be gender fluid seeking anything else.
The site has a 20-minute sign-up process in which you are encouraged to “answer spontaneously and honestly.”
The questionnaire is in-depth and also uses psychological factors for determining your match. For me, I hardly have an attention span to speak of, much less do a 20-minute questionnaire before my search for love.
That said, you can surmise that anyone who goes through the process is at least somewhat serious about finding a suitable partner — which is why most people use eHarmony to begin with.
- Unlimited photos of you and others
- Unlimited messaging
- See who has looked at your profile
- See how far someone is from you
- Get access to their detailed personality profile
- Filter your matches to suit your preferences
- Your matches will be regularly updated
Premium Light is $34.90 per month for 6 months, Premium Plus is $25.90 per month for 12 months, and Premium Extra is $17.90 per month for 24 months. All come with the same upgrade features.
Best for: Those serious about something serious. Suits an older age group of 35+, given the nature of its sign-up process and the intentions of those on the site.
The Bottom Line on 2021’s Top Dating Apps
There is something out there for everyone. With a plethora of apps and sites available to you, do your research to see which one is right for you and what you’re looking for. “Ultimately, dating apps exist to sell you stuff,” Womble notes. “That’s why it’s more important than ever to get in control of your swiping strategy to build a better dating life.”
“Premium options can be a good tool for some, however, it’s not guaranteed that they will improve your swiping and dating experience,” Womble adds.
Consider the benefits of paying for an upgrade in membership versus using a free version: The pros may outweigh the costs.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain to my husband why I have so many dating apps on my phone…